Texas Accountability System Causes "Avoidable Losses," Study Finds

K-12 Testing

FairTest Examiner - April 2008

A new report finds that the Texas accountability system, the model for the federal No Child Left Behind law and many state exit exam systems, depresses graduation rates. The negative effect is most severe for African Americans, Hispanics, and English language learners.

The study by Rice University Professor Linda McNeil and colleagues estimates that 135,000 Texas high school students leave school per year. McNeil and her coauthors analyzed one large urban district and found an overall graduation rate of just 33%.

According to “Avoidable Losses: High-Stakes Accountability and the Dropout Crisis,” the casualties are a direct result of high-stakes accountability systems designed to maximize test scores. The elimination of thousands of low-scoring students artificially boosts scores. Creating the appearance of rising achievement and narrowing achievement gaps helps schools reap higher ratings. As a result, some administrators receive bonuses and politicians bask in the light of "success." Meanwhile tens of thousands of students are driven from the system.

NCLB’s demand that test scores be disaggregated by race has been touted as a civil rights tool to force schools to pay closer attention to struggling minority students. In Texas it has not worked. Rather, "The triaging of minority youth out of our schools becomes not a side effect of standardized accountability, but an avoidable loss to make the system look successful."

Other findings included:

• The system promotes test-drill curricula that increase the likelihood students leave school without graduation.

• Zero tolerance attendance and behavior rules also alienate students and feed dropout statistics.

• Because of the degradation of the curriculum, zero tolerance and increased retention in 9th grade, students experience school as arbitrary and confusing, which also leads them to drop out.

The study is available at http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v16n3/.